Paul Bowles first won recognition as a composer of modern and theater music. When his first novel, The Sheltering Sky, was published in 1949, it was a literary event. Readers of his unique and disturbing stories eagerly awaited his novel.
Living in Tangier, Morocco, with his wife, the writer Jane Bowles, Bowles was considered a literary outsider. The perception of his work as nihilistic and filled with horror and violence turned many critics away. Others have pointed out Bowles’s great capacity for describing the wonder and the terror of life.
Many of Bowles’s respected contemporaries, such as Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal, championed the novel. The praise has been echoed by others. Most writers agree that Bowles is a master at depicting the essential separateness of each human psyche.
The Sheltering Sky is about two people who are emotionally estranged from each other. They are in love yet fundamentally separated by emotional impasses, fears, and inabilities. It is also a story about two cultures: the modern intellectual, time-driven American, and the timeless, sensual Saharan. As the story progresses, the American protagonists travel deeper into the desert and inward through many levels of consciousness. The farther south they travel, the less recognizable Kit and Port become to each other. They discard society’s trappings and become more strongly impelled to search within themselves for understanding...
(The entire section is 562 words.)